Merck, AstraZeneca, Pfizer top list of biggest pharma job-cutters

Anyone who follows the pharma business knows that industry giants have made giant cuts to their workforces over the past several years. Just how many jobs have been cut? About 143,500 among the world's top 11 drugmakers, FirstWord Pharma reports, citing Bloomberg data. That's roughly equivalent to the population of Savannah, GA, or Paterson, NJ.

The reasons for those cuts are clear: Generic competition for once-megablockbuster drugs like Pfizer's ($PFE) Lipitor and Sanofi ($SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Plavix. Declining productivity in Big Pharma R&D. The shift to specialty drugs that can be promoted without a small army of sales reps. And a series of mergers that spawned "synergies" waiting to be tapped.

But the job cuts haven't spread equally across the industry, as FirstWord reports. In fact, one company stands much higher than the rest, and it's the company that last week added another 8,500 jobs to its tally: Merck ($MRK), which has eliminated 46,140 jobs since 2008.

The next-highest company falls a full 20,000 jobs lower. AstraZeneca ($AZN) has cut 25,733 jobs, the Bloomberg data show. And below AZ is Pfizer, with 16,517 jobs cut. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) are in the 9,000 range, while Abbott ($ABT), Bristol-Myers, Eli Lilly ($LLY), Novartis ($NVS), Sanofi and Roche ($RHHBY) cluster from about 5,300 to about 7,700.

We beg to differ with a few of these numbers; for instance, Pfizer topped FiercePharma's list of top 10 layoffs of 2009, with 19,500, and has instituted several more rounds of cuts since. But the fact that Merck stands in the lead isn't surprising; the company has been at or near the top of the ranks of job cutters three of the last 5 years, with this latest round topping it off.

- see the FirstWord story

Special Reports: Top 10 Pharma Layoffs of 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 - 2008 | Top 10 Pharma Companies by Employees - Merck - AstraZeneca - Pfizer